Equality of access to quality education and to all sources of knowledge is a human right as without it fundamental human mind cannot reach its full potential.


If there is one thing that determines the future trajectory and fate of nations, that is the right kind of education. It is the vehicle through which people’s talents are unleashed and skills developed and upon which success of individuals and nations depends. But unless we are clear in our mind what is the goal of education we will not be able to devise the right strategy, policy and plan and get the desired results.

First step then is to define “education”. What education is NOT:

  1. It is not simply literacy or the three Rs traditionally associated with it—Reading, Writing and Arithmetic, rather these are just the building blocks and initial steps towards attaining the ultimate goal.
  2. It is not simply a set of skills to perform certain tasks efficiently and with competence like becoming a doctor, engineer, car mechanic or plumber etc.
  3. It is not just knowing and memorizing certain facts about various subjects like history, astronomy, physics etc.
  4. Education should not be simply a desire and vehicle to get the best paying jobs in the marketplace, neither should it be up for sale for the highest paying customers.

So, the question arises, what is education?  We believe that education is:

  • Broadening of the mind
  • Cultivation of interest to learn
  • Developing analytical skills and critical thinking
  • Desire to search for truth
  • Creativity and out of box thinking
  • Developing tolerance for different opinions, faiths and ideologies
  • Becoming intellectually, emotionally and socially connected with one’s environment and being able to influence it positively
  • It is not wisdom but it is a road to achieving wisdom.
  • A road to deliberate and thoughtful living and not just making a living.
  • And above all to be a good human being, sensitive and empathetic to others’ plight, and be willing to help

The opposite side of the coin is that lack of education is not simply absence of reading or writing ability. It has much more serious and far reaching consequences. It leads to disempowerment and exclusion of people from decision making, exclusion from political discourse, and inability to effectively participate in democratic process. An illiterate person also has no access to information as they cannot read newspapers, books and any other printed or on-line material. No person can reach their full potential without education.

Seen from this perspective an educated mind is indispensable not only for individual progress but also that of society, and it becomes state’s responsibility to ensure equal access of all citizens to quality education.

Current Situation

If we are asked to sum up the current state of education in Pakistan in one sentence, it can be said that there is “education apartheid” in the country, even though it may not be as explicit as was the case under Bantu Education Act in South Africa, which essentially ensured that African children only learn enough to enable them for working in factories or other menial labor to serve the whites. They were denied any education or skills which would enable them to compete with their masters.

In Pakistan the education system is supposedly open to all citizens regardless of their socioeconomic status or other considerations.  But in reality, it has been set up where it not only perpetuates but strengthen the class-based system. In the past few decades we have seen privatization of education where now it has become a commodity which can be bought according to one’s buying power just like clothes, shoes, housing or food. Those who cannot afford have to be content with lesser quality products. While clothes, shoes, housing may not have direct effect on the future of a human being, food and education lead to an everlasting impact on human life. Whereas lack of quality food leads to stunting of physical and intellectual growth, lack of quality education leads to effective exclusion of the poor from practically all opportunities needed for their equal participation in political, social and economic arenas of the society. Both of these factors have direct relationship with unequal distribution of wealth which impacts many other facets of life.

In simple words it means that the poor, various levels of middle class and elite, each have specific kinds of schools where they send their children. As these children enter practical life, they go back to their respective socioeconomic class with little chance to ever crossing that barrier. And that is how the elite class maintains its hold on the reigns of power and wealth.

Article 25-A of Pakistan’s constitution which was added in 2010, calls for the provision of free and compulsory education to all children ages 5-16.  It was a promise to the children of Pakistan that state is responsible for educating them. However, not only that promise remains unfulfilled, the promise itself is short of the ideal which should not be just access to education only to primary level but access to quality education for as far as the person is willing to go.

Pakistan ranks 177, globally, in the community of world countries in terms of public spending on education; just seven developing countries in the world spend less on education than Pakistan. Out of this meagre amount, 83 % is allocated for current expenditure and only about 17% for development. And budget allocation is not actual budget spending, which is reported at the end of fiscal year. In the years 2012-2013 the actual education development expenditure for all four provinces, was less than 50% of what was allocated to the sector. These figures are taken from UNDP report.

At this time there are about 22 to 25 million children out of school. Enrolment in primary schools is only 57% and drops to 38% at secondary and 26% at high school level. This shows high drop out and poor completion rate. Three out of four high school age children are not in school. In a country with 60% of population being under the age of 30, these numbers do not bode well for future of the country. Uneducated and unemployed, angry and frustrated youth can unravel the whole social fabric of society.

Gender gap in education is another dimension which has not been addressed in spite of repeated promises by successive governments. For example according to UNDP only 7 per cent of 14-15 years old girls in Baluchistan and 18 per cent in KPK are in school. Over all literacy rate in males is 69 percent compared to 45 per cent in females.

Due to the negligence of successive governments education has become a complex problem.  One of our core beliefs is equality of access to quality education for all children and all those who want to continue this quest for longer periods of their lives.

Some facts and figures

These figures are taken from a report by I-SAPs and Alif Ailan and Pakistan Education Statistics by National Education Management Information, Academy of Educational Planning and Management, Ministry of federal Education Professional Training and Government of Pakistan (Feb 2017). Numbers have been rounded of and the discrepancies are due to different sources. For example the number of out of school children is anywhere between 22 million to 25 million.

We also must add that there is no mention of the quality of education in these reports. This means that very little attention is being paid to that aspect of education. But we know from empirical data that quality of education in public sector institutions as well as in most of the private institutions is below par.

Budget stats:

From the following figures we can see that not only Pakistan is much behind in terms of allocating funds for education, but out of these allocated funds very small portion is allocated for development. Major chunk is spent just to maintain the current system running. And higher education gets a lion’s share in this budget. In addition even the allocated funds are not spent fully.

So new schools are not being established. No effort is being made to implement new methods, technologies and improving the quality of education.

Another conclusion we draw is that since most children who get to higher education level belong to elite and upper middle-class families, they are consuming a major portion of allocated budget with little left for the masses.

The fact that even small amount of money allocated for development is not being used, means poor governance and mismanagement.

Out of the funds allocated to the current expenses, a major portion is being used for salaries with little left for non-salary expenses. We don’t have objection to that. In fact we believe that teachers should be brought to the level of other civil service officers in order to attract good quality candidates into this profession. But it also means end of political appointments and absentee teachers.

The result is that Pakistan’s literacy rate is not improving. There are no innovations in either the method of teaching or the curriculum.

  • Pakistan ranks 177, globally, in the community of world countries in terms of public spending on education
  • Only 2% of GDP is allocated on education. Just seven developing countries in the world spend less on education than Pakistan.
  • Out of total federal budget of 4,302 billion education receives 84 billion
  • Out of this about 75% is spent on recurrent expenses and only 25% for development.
  • Out of budget for recurrent expenses 28% is used for salaries and 72% for non-salary items at federal level
  • A major chunk of budget is spent on higher education with small amounts left for primary and secondary education. Its share has increased by 58% over last 5 years and spending is higher than allocation.
  • Out of school children stats:

This is the scariest aspect of these reports. Present looks disappointing and future bleak. Slightly less than half are out of school and out of these, two third never went to school. More than four fifths of children are not in higher secondary level education system.  This means we have a whole generation of illiterate people coming up which is not equipped for job market even at medium skill level and worse, being illiterate, is not even trainable. And we cannot even think of entering knowledge economy.

Other alarming aspects of this picture are that this is leading the country towards strengthening the current ruling elite as the children of the masses are not being prepared to take leadership role; there is continued concern of these children being used by terrorist groups for there own interests; a large number of illiterate angry, directionless young people who do not see a future for themselves will lead to social strife.

  • Out of school children: these figures are based on projected census by National Institute of Population Studies:
  • Out of a total population of 51.17 million children, ages 5 to 16, only 28.5 million attend school.
  • 22.64 million are out of school.
  • Number of out of school children by level of education: Primary 5,025,968, Middle 6,400,844, Secondary 4,879,733 and Higher secondary 6,331,397
  • Number of out of school children by region: Punjab 9,922,822, Sindh 6,667,268, KPK 2,501,106, Baluchistan 1,891,596, AJK 638,969, Gilgit-Baltistan 237,686, FATA 736,929, Capital Territory 41,567.
  • 85% of children are not in higher secondary level
  • Number of out of school girls is higher than boys at each level and there are differences among provinces, worse being FATA, Baluchistan and KPK
  • Poor are more likely to be out of school.
  • Percentage of children according to quintiles of income groups are: Lowest 20% income group has 57% children out of school while highest 20% group has only 10% children out of school.

Enrolment Ratios

These numbers basically reiterate our concerns in the above section. We can see that out of 100 children in Pakistan 77 are enrolled at primary level but only 60 end up finishing this level of education. Out of them only 49 transition to the lower secondary level. The numbers don’t tell us how many actually pass high school. The number going to college and then university level is very small. And as we said earlier, the quality of education remains an unchartered territory that is not even being measure or tracked.

Another conclusion from these stats is the glaring difference between various regions of the country. There is a tendency to blame cultural and social restrictions for this but that is not the whole story. We believe this is a logical outcome of the uneven development between rural and urban areas as well as various provinces and districts. Gender disparity is obvious at all levels. We believe that there has been no consistent and concerted effort being made to overcome these gaps.

Institution Stats:

These numbers tell us about another aspect of education in Pakistan. In the past few decades the onslaught of neoliberal philosophy leading to privatization of everything, did not spare education as well. About one third of all institutions are private now.

This has impacted education in many ways. Since elite and ruling mafia can afford the private sector, they have lost interests in improving the public-sector education.

Quality education is out of each of the masses. Leaving them no hope for a better future. This is also evident from the fact that as we move up the ladder percentage of private school increases. This means poorer sections of population do not see any value of education to their lives and drop out. Those who can manage, end up sending their children to private schools due to dismal quality of education in public sector.

The infrastructure of public schools is pathetic, especially at lower levels. This is when the child is first introduced to formal education and that is when the love of learning is supposed to be instilled in them. Dilapidated schools are no place to instill that. Add the absent teachers and ancient method pf teaching and it is a recipe for failure.

  • Total number of institutions: 303,446 with 47,491,260 students
  • Public institutions 191,065 with 27.69 million students
  • Private institutions 112,381 with 19,8 million students
  • Thus 37% private institutions serving 42% students
  • Out of total of 145,829 primary schools 86% are public while 14% are private
  • Out of total primary school students of 18.75 million 61% attend public and 39% private schools
  • At higher secondary level 34% students attend private and 66% public schools. At degree college level it is 89% public and 11% private.
  • There are 163 universities, public 56% and private 44% with total enrolment of 1.355 million students.
  • Private schools are more expensive, with smaller classes, strict admission criteria and better quality of education.
  • Electricity is available in 53% schools at primary level, 76% at middle, 91% at high and 97% of higher secondary levels.
  • Drinking water is available in 67% schools at primary level, 82% at middle level, 92% of secondary level and 96% of higher secondary level.
  • Toilets are available in 67% of schools at primary level, 85% of middle level, 93% of secondary level and 97% of higher secondary level
  • Boundary wall is present in 71% of primary schools, 87% of middle, 91% of secondary and 95% of higher secondary levels.
  • There are significant number of primary schools which have only one teacher. In Punjab, out of 53,935 schools 73% are primary and 17% have only one teacher. In Sindh there are 47,394 schools with 91% primary and 45% have only one teacher. In KPK out of 28,427 schools 83% are primary with 21% with one teacher only. In Baluchistan out of 12,357 schools 85% are primary and 58% have only one teacher.


Teachers stats:

Not only that number of teachers is inadequate, their training is also inadequate. Many in the rural areas do not even show up for work. They don’t have much respect in the society and the profession does not attract talented and motivated people.

Total number of teachers is 1,723,790 with 52% serving pubic and 48% private sector

There are 209 teachers training institutes, 75% public and 25% private with total enrolment of 0.723 million, 99% in public and 1% in private sector

Our Goals for Education Program 

The most precious of resources available to Pakistan is its young population. The most important goal of all institutions of the country should be to harness its energies for the betterment of the country and the world. Education sector is critical to achieving this goal. However, years of poor planning and neglect by all successive governments has given rise to a situation in education sector which cannot be rectified overnight. There are also structural and social barriers which will have to be addressed. Thus, we will have to adopt a step wise approach with short and long term goals based on availability of resources and institutional capacity.

Education is a provincial responsibility. Federal government can support through providing technical support, funding research about education related issues to find solutions, capacity building of provincial education departments and offer funding incentives.

In the long term we envision:

  • All citizens to have access to free of cost state of the art education
  • Complete elimination of illiteracy and ignorance
  • Everyone to be able to go back to school any time they choose
  • Education which broadens the mind and encourages critical thinking, which develops respects for other faiths and encourages peaceful coexistence with diverse groups.
  • Education to be a source of enlightenment rather than merely a means to make money.
  • Pakistan to be a country where every child can become whatever she or he aspires for.
  • In short, to prepare a generation which contributes to world peace, solve humanity’s problems, takes a leadership role, and addresses future challenges.

In the short and medium term, we want to ensure:

  • 100% access to free education and skills development for all children
  • Improving the quality of education to eventually make it at par with country’s top private institutions